Aux Gourmands - short review
Last night, my wife and I had our first dinner out since our second child was born nearly four months ago. We wanted to make it special, but didn't feel like anything posh and formal. I wanted sushi, my wife was more in the mood for red wine and some French food to go with it. Who was I to deny her the red wine after a pretty wine-less year of pregnancy and breast feeding? So French it was.
We decided to try something new. We wanted some not-too-formal French place with a reputation for good food. Aux Gourmands, a restaurant in Azabudai (opposite the giant Azabu post office) seemed to fit the bill. I had tried to book on two or three previous occasions, but they were always full. This time we managed to get a table.
The food was very good indeed. Not out of this world, but very decent, with some outstanding dishes. A very nice cream of sweet onion with fruit tomato sauce was followed by raw, very gently pickled mackerel and oyster on couscous. A slightly odd combination which actually worked very well. A foie gras and truffle risotto really hit the spot (maybe not the best foie gras around, but pretty good), but the highlight was the porc couchon, one of the best pieces of pork I have had for a very, very long time (possibly ever). The cheese platter included a really excellent camembert washed in shochu - a good test of a restaurant in my view, because I usually find camembert boring and a bit pointless when there are so many other cheeses which are similar in character but just better in terms of flavour, texture and interest. The cheese platter was followed by some boring dessert I have already forgotten, about 14 hours after we left the restaurant.
The wine list is quite small, but perfectly decent if you are in the mood for Burgundy or Bordeaux. We were in a Burgundy mood so had a bottle of Puligny Montrachet (Henri Boillot, 2009 - doesn't set the world alight, but always dependable) and a Gevrey Chambertin (Denis Mortet, 2008).
So the food and wine were good, but I don't think we will be back because unfortunately, other things did not go so well.
There was an incredibly long wait for every dish - we were there for nearly five hours, even though there was relatively little food. The onion cream was pre-prepared and just had to be scooped on the plate, the fish was raw and just had to be placed on the couscous. In other words, they just had to prepare the risotto and the pork dish. An hour and a half passed between entering the restaurant and getting served the fish starter. Even the waiter seemed to be starving - we spotted him munching away in the kitchen and were very jealous indeed. We didn't know what he was eating, but by then would have settled for anything.
They had two people working in the kitchen (that we could see), and the restaurant has a total of 17 seats. The chef, a very charming and interesting man, came out at the end of the meal and explained that he was very sorry it took so long, the restaurant was too busy as there were too many customers, and we should come back when they are less full! Given that they are full all the time, which is why I had struggled getting a reservation at short notice in the past, you'd think after the many years he has been in business he would have worked out how to manage the process. I have been to restaurants with a similar kitchen staff to diner ratio and never encountered such delays.
If you are up for a massive evening, happy to wait for food (and kill time with lots of wine on an empty stomach) then this place is for you. I used to enjoy that sort of thing, it turned the evening into more of an occasion and gave me an excuse to try more wines than I would otherwise have done. If on the other hand you are very hungry when you enter the restaurant and, given two small children, get tired by around 10pm / 11pm, then I'd probably pick a different place. The food is worth it, the chef is very pleasant, but there are so many great French restaurants in Tokyo and the food is not unique enough to warrant a nearly 5 hour marathon.
I also thought it was a bit overpriced, at least as compared to some similar restaurants. The above meal (set menu, chef's omakase) was something like 9,500 or 9,900 yen per person. I have had similar quality for quite a bit less (let's say 6,000 yen), though equally I have seen similar pricing elsewhere.
Next Saturday I am getting my wish and we are going to Daisan Harumi for sushi. Yay!
re: lost squirrel
Mrs Maniac will be pleased to hear from you! Any chance of a trip sometime soon to Tokyo?
I am happy to glance over small inefficiencies (why bother getting annoyed), but this unfortunately really makes an intolerable difference to the evening. I have squeezed 15 courses into a shorter evening than that! It's a shame as I like the place and the chef, but it's just not worth it unless this is specifically a pace you are seeking out. (My problem often is the other way round - many restaurants bring food out too quickly, don't give you time to relax between courses. How I longed for those sorts of places on Saturday!)
The chef is really charming. I've actually been several times when it hasn't been full. I used to live just down the street and it was one of our locals. In fact, I don't think I've ever been there and had it been full. Maybe it's become more popular in the last year or so since I've been there.
For what it's worth, the service is pretty slow when it's not busy, too. Not as slow as it was for you, though, for sure. 5 hours? We'd have had to leave half-way through to make sure our sitter caught the last train home! That's really a shame b/c I like the chef, the food and the space and have always wanted it to succeed. That said, I haven't been back for a long time b/c we, too, have a time limit now that we have a baby and I'm afraid the slow service would make us so nervous we'd not fully enjoy the meal.